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Green future for algae bio-fuel

The clear sunny days and ready access to water offered by Karratha in Western Australia make it an ideal place to grow algae, it's such a good spot that Aurora Algae has just tripled the amount of money it wants to spend on a commercial algae bio-diesel plant in the town.

The company announced a $100 million commercial expansion of its demonstration facility at the start of the year, but because the site has been performing so well, investment plans have now been upped to $300 million.

The development footprint has increased too, the company isn't planning just 100 hectares of algae ponds now, it's going for 400 hectares.

Algae is grown in ponds on the site; it's then skimmed off, dried and the bio-fuel is made by extracting oil from a dried algae powder.

The facility expects to reach commercial production by mid-2014 and by the time the expansion is complete it should be capable of producing one million litres of bio-diesel a year.

Founder and managing director of Aurora, Matthew Caspari, says industry in the north-west of WA presents a willing market.

"We've tested the product with potential customers and there's strong interest broadly from the mining sector here, from traditional oil companies and distributors."

The algae grown on the site feeds on carbon dioxide and the company hopes to pair up with local emitters to ensure a ready supply.

According to Mr Caspari, Aurora will be a beneficiary of the carbon tax.

"We're taking carbon into our process and actually creating useful products from carbon dioxide, which is quite unique.

"The large carbon dioxide emitters that are in the area here are very interested in our project and the opportunities it can offer to them to potentially create some value from CO2, rather than looking at carbon dioxide just as something that causes a problem environmentally and (is) a tax burden for companies."

It's not just bio-diesel being produced from the algae either, with omega 3 oils and protein separated out as it's refined.

Those by-products are put to good use, with the aquaculture industry keen to get its hands on the protein and, according to Mr Caspari, there's strong demand for omega 3 oils.

"In dietary supplements, traditionally omega 3 oils come from fish oil, people taking fish oil pills.

"The demand for those products is rising rapidly, there's very strong science behind the health benefits, and the supply of that oil is quite flat so we're offering companies that are in that business to have a new source of omega 3 oils, which has had a very good response."

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